Starring: Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong, Wu Ma, Wang Zuxian
Director: Siu-Tung Ching
When a hapless young tax collector wanders into town, no one will give him shelter and he’s forced to take refuge in a haunted temple. There he meets a misanthropic Taoist warrior and a beautiful girl, who harbours a deadly secret: she is a ghost being kept prisoner and forced to seduce and kill men who come to the temple. With the help of the warrior, the young man sets out to kill the monstrous tree spirit that holds her and free his true love.
Made in Hong Kong in the 80’s, it’s a film that sparkles and delights, and it has a little bit of everything. In some ways, it’s a fairy tale, set in an older time, with star crossed lovers and monsters that must be vanquished, with the help and guidance of an older mentor, but what lifts it is how much the film has stuffed into it’s bones. There’s plenty of innocent, slapstick or classic movie comedy scattered throughout. They’re like Dad jokes, and even though they are sometimes pretty cheesey, they’re also kind of charming. Add to this a Ray Harryhausen style stop motion skeletal ghouls and a creature with a monstrous tongue, and you have some classic 80’s effects.
But there’s more. The film also has characters engage in martial arts and sword fights, as well as a little magic. People fly through the air, throw swords and call down lightening. It’s pretty epic. It’s actually quite a lot for one film, and yet it never really loses it’s way. Each character is quite archetypal, so they feel familiar and relatable quite quickly.
There’s something about this film that’s so 80’s and so charming, from the elaborate sets and creature creation to the central sweet love story. It’s truly delightful, and tries to have something for everyone, from action and adventure to humour and romance, and there’s something about this intensity that’s so enthusiastic it’s hard not to get caught up. The version that I watched had really badly translated subtitles, which were pretty hilarious themselves, and just made me love this film more. It’s not perfect and is often kind of silly, but it’s fun to just sink into and enjoy.
See It If: you love fairytales, Chinese or Hong Kong cinema, martial arts or 80’s fantasy films. It’s really charming.